I really enjoyed the first book in the DI Kim Stone series, Silent Scream, and this book is the follow-up. In Evil Games, Stone heads up a particularly disturbing and chilling investigation. Like the first book, it is a police procedural but I felt that this one had more ‘thriller’ elements, for example, with aspects of the case being personal to Stone, and an urgent need to stop events from happening.
The novel opens at whiplash pace with a dawn raid to rescue two children from the cellar of a paedophile’s house where ‘evil games’ are being played. I was drawn into the story from the first page and the thrilling pace is maintained throughout the book via a series of exciting twists and turns. Stone is unable to forget about the two children, and how their lives will be affected, and is determined to bring to justice all those involved.
When a rapist is found mutilated in a brutal stabbing, Stone and her team discover further sinister events. However, leads are spaghetti-like, and Stone is frustrated by the lack of initial progress: as one suspect is ruled out, another comes into the frame and then recedes again.
The reader meets psychiatrist, Dr Alexandra Thorne, early on and with chapters written from her point of view, learns what she is up to. When Stone encounters Thorne, we follow Stone’s investigation and deductive processes. I loved the character of the psychiatrist. I cannot really expand on why without spoilers, but I thought her character was cleverly constructed and her involvement in the plot brought in some quite controversial and fascinating psychology.
The book blurb states how this investigation becomes personal for Stone, and it really does. In Evil Games, the reader learns more about Stone’s backstory and how it has moulded her personality and lifestyle. Due to her childhood experiences, Stone shows significant empathy towards the two girls from the cellar, and to the victims of subsequent crimes. For me, this caring quality makes her a sympathetic character while also being extremely capable and courageous. In this investigation, Stone finds herself in a battle of wits with a dangerous sociopath, who also delights in evil games. The interactions between them bounce Stone into having to confront her own past. I thought this worked well as it meant that Stone’s backstory is revealed through events in the story. It is also how people in real life are forced to come to terms with their pasts, as a result of things which happen around them which re-activate traumas.
Some authors have their detectives in conflict, which makes for exciting reading. Here, I love the enabling rapport between Stone and her sergeant, Bryant. Although she is younger than him, he respects her authority and decisions but at the same time the bond and trust between them mean that he is able to tease and joke with her on a personal level, and challenge her, in a way that no-one else is. Bryant also genuinely cares about her and likes her, and this brings out the best in her.
This is an addictive read with dark themes of abuse, corruption and exploitation. I was relieved to find plenty of caring, undamaged characters to balance things out and make the plot believable. The story, and the numerous shocking revelations, prompt consideration of debates which remain unanswered in psychology, for example whether evil, and disorders such as sociopathy and psychosis, are biologically or environmentally determined. Furthermore, the novel raises the question of whether it is possible to recover from trauma and abuse, another hotly debated issue in clinical and developmental psychology. While reading, I was wondering how the novel would end and I felt this was handled well. There were quite a few plot strands to tie up and explain, and sometimes this can make an ending feel rushed even though it can be difficult to avoid with a complex plot.
Although we have learnt more about Stone in Evil Games, I sense that there is a lot more to know about her. And I think Marsons has hit character gold in DI Kim Stone. She is also an extremely good story teller with a knack for pace.
My review copy was obtained from NetGalley. With thanks to the author and publisher.
Vicky Newham © 2015